The Matt Signal: BTAS Season 1 Findings

At last the insanely long first season of Batman The Animated Series is over, and before we go any further I thought this would be a good point to reflect on where things sit after 65 episodes.

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Each Saturday and Sunday Matt Waters recaps an episode of the legendary Batman: The Animated Series, building an overall ranking along the way. Plus best performances, the ever-popular Villain Watch and more!

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Top 10 Title Cards

The best ones are a perfect combination of highly legible (a higher bar than you’d think!) and evocative of the episode. So many feature poor graphic design that makes them hard to read, unlike my personal top ten (so far), which are all super clean.

Best Directors

Top Row: Bruce Timm, Boyd Kirkland, Kevin Altieri
Bottom Row: Eric Radomski, Frank Paur and Dan Riba

I’ve been keeping track of who directed which episodes and calculated an average score for each of them based on the episode rankings. This is a silly, pure numbers exercise, and not reflective of my personal feelings about their abilities, as many things besides the direction go into my rankings.

  1. Bruce Timm (4)
  2. Boyd Kirkland (15)
  3. Kevin Altieri (16)
  4. Eric Radomski (3)
  5. Dick Sebast (9)
  6. Frank Paur (14)
  7. Dan Riba (4)
  8. Kent Butterworth (1)

Only eight people directed episodes in season one, and there are four clear workhorses: Kevin Altieri (16), Boyd Kirkland (15), Frank Paur (14) and Dick Sebast (9), who directed 54 of the 65 episodes between them. Thus it makes sense they sit in the middle of the pack.

On the other end of the spectrum, show creators Bruce Timm (4) & Eric Radomski (3) seemingly got to cherry-pick, while Dan Riba (4) perhaps just wasn’t experienced enough to handle the same workload as the others at this point of his career.

Bringing up the rear is Kent Butterworth who directed only a single episode, ‘Christmas with the Joker’. He has over 100 animation credits to his name, but less than 20 for directing, so perhaps it’s just not his thing?

Top 10 Writers

Top Row: Joe R. Lansdale, Dennis O’Flaherty, Paul Dini
Bottom Row: Marv Wolfman, Gerry Conway, Brynne Chandler

Things are a little more difficult with writing as there are 42 credited scribes, and many only wrote a single episode. This makes the rankings look a little wonkier than the directing ones, such as Paul Dini not being number one despite being quite clearly the best writer on the show.

It’s for that reason I also took note of how many episodes each writer had in the top and bottom ten. Dini dominates there, with half of the current top ten to his name and none in the bottom. In fact he’s the only writer to get more than one episode into the top tier.

  1. Joe R. Lansdade (2)
  2. Dennis O’Flaherty (1)
  3. Paul Dini (10)
  4. Marv Wolfman (2)
  5. Gerry Conway (1)
  6. Brynne Chandler (5)
  7. Michael Reaves (8)
  8. Alan Burnett (3)
  9. Garin Wolf (2)
  10. Dennis O’Neil (2)

For those curious, bringing up the rear are a number of one-and-done’s and Jules Dennis and Richard Meuller, who are two of only four writers with multiple bottom ten episodes against them (Len Wein and Sean Catherine Derek were the others, but their slightly higher average kept them out of the basement.)

Best Performances

Aaron Kincaid (Killer Croc), Mark Hamill (Joker), Richard Moll (Two-Face), Paul Williams (Penguin), Kevin Conroy (Batman), Diane Pershing (Poison Ivy) and Arleen Sorkin (Harley Quinn)

I haven’t been ranking these as I go per se, but the ten that stick out to me the most for their range and acting ability so far are:

  1. Kevin Conroy (Batman)
  2. Mark Hamill (Joker)
  3. Arleen Sorkin (Harley Quinn)
  4. Diane Pershing (Poison Ivy)
  5. George Dzundza (Ventriloquist)
  6. Roddy McDowell (Mad Hatter)
  7. Richard Moll (Two-Face)
  8. Henry Polic II (Scarecrow)
  9. Robert Costanzo (Harvey Bullock)
  10. Melissa Gilbert (Batgirl)

Episode Rankings

There are four basic kinds of episode: Villain Spotlights, Villain Ensembles, Batman Spotlights and Ally Spotlights. Most fit cleanly into one of those categories.

By far the most frequent type is Villain Spotlight, with around 43 of 65 episodes zeroing in on one of Gotham’s Most Wanted. However, only four of these are in my top ten, and just as many are in the bottom half as the top.

In contrast, only four episodes are Batman Spotlights, but two are in the top ten, and another is in the top twenty. For the most part, Batman is just Batman; our hero arrived fully formed, with no origin tale in sight. Heck the opening credits don’t even say his name! He is just Batman, and for the most part we all understand him, but when they do decide to delve deeper, it’s extremely effective.

Villain Ensembles and Ally Spotlights are exactly even with 9 each in total, and two each in the top ten. The Bat Family are great, but the show would probably have been weaker if there were more Robin-centric episodes. In fact, Season 2 will prove that one for us pretty soon!

  1. Laughing Fish
  2. Almost Got ‘im
  3. Heart of Ice
  4. Shadow of the Bat I
  5. Robin’s Reckoning I
  6. I Am the Night
  7. Man Who Killed Batman
  8. Perchance to Dream
  9. Two-Face I
  10. Joker’s Favor
  11. Read My Lips
  12. Feat of Clay II
  13. Demon’s Quest II
  14. Harley and Ivy
  15. Robin’s Reckoning II
  16. Beware the Gray Ghost
  17. Mad as a Hatter
  18. Heart of Steel II
  19. Appointment in Crime Alley
  20. Two-Face II
  21. Pretty Poison
  22. Shadow of the Bat II
  23. Feat of Clay II
  24. His Silicon Soul
  25. Off Balance
  26. Vendetta
  27. Birds of a Feather
  28. Heart of Steel I
  29. On Leather Wings
  30. See No Evil
  31. Clock King
  32. Never Too Late
  33. Joker’s Wild
  34. Eternal Youth
  35. Cape and Cowl Conspiracy
  36. Cat and Claw I
  37. Zatanna
  38. Day of the Samurai
  39. Demon’s Quest I
  40. Mechanic
  41. Strange Secret of Bruce Wanye
  42. Terror in the Sky
  43. POV
  44. Christmas with the Joker
  45. Fear of Victory
  46. Be a Clown
  47. Worry Men
  48. What is Reality?
  49. Night of the Ninja
  50. Fire From Olympus
  51. Mudslide
  52. Cat and Claw II
  53. Nothing to Fear
  54. Prophecy of Doom
  55. Tyger Tyger
  56. Blind as a Bat
  57. If You’re So Smart Why Aren’t You Rich?
  58. Dreams in Darkness
  59. Last Laugh
  60. Cat Scratch Fever
  61. Moon of the Wolf
  62. Paging the Crime Doctor
  63. Underdwellers
  64. Forgotten
  65. I’ve Got Batman in My Basement

Villain Watch

I deeply regret naming this part of the column after a recurring segment on my MCU podcast. If I could do it again, I’d call it something like ‘Ranking the Rogues.’

The Joker of course reigns supreme, as he is often the first thing people talk about when discussing BTAS, and by far the most recurring antagonist. It was rough going until Paul Dini got his hands on the character, and since then he’s had a number of much stronger showings.

The show’s creators wanted to keep certain villains to a single, memorable appearance, like Mr. Freeze, Clayface and possibly Two-Face, and you can see why, as Freeze maintains a strong ranking after his iconic spotlight, ‘Heart of Ice’, while Clayface’s poor return in ‘Mudslide’ dragged him down a few spots.

Poison Ivy’s initial placement drew a few comments from readers for being too low, but she has steadily risen as she’s racked up strong appearances. More to come in season two!

The Penguin debuted in the worst episode in the show and then vanished for a long time, but once he became a recurring villain, he gradually climbed out of the basement and assumed the role you’d expect. But he pales in comparison to Harley Quinn, the little character that could. Beginning life as a late addition to ‘Joker’s Favor’, she quickly took on a life of her own thanks to her creator, Paul Dini, finding her way all the way into the top five.

The bottom of the rankings are mostly comprised of original creations and lesser known existing characters. But of the better known villains, Scarecrow and Talia al Ghul stick out, as I feel they’ve just not been written very well so far. The former will get more chances, but the latter only really got true shine in the tie-in comics. More on those soon!

  1. The Joker
  2. Mr. Freeze
  3. Poison Ivy
  4. Harley Quinn
  5. Two-Face
  6. The Ventriloquist
  7. Mad Hatter
  8. Penguin
  9. Catwoman
  10. HARDAC (and Randa Duane)
  11. Clayface
  12. Ra’s al Ghul
  13. The Riddler
  14. Clock King
  15. Killer Croc
  16. Lloyd Ventrix
  17. Count Vertigo
  18. Josiah Wormwood
  19. Scarecrow
  20. Roland Daggett (and Germs & Bell!)
  21. Rupert Thorne
  22. Sid the Squid
  23. Maxie Zeus
  24. Jimmy ‘Jazzman’ Peake
  25. Tony Zucco
  26. Man-Bat
  27. Hugo Strange
  28. Red Claw
  29. Arnold Stromwell
  30. Mad Bomber
  31. Tygrus
  32. Rhino, Mugsy and Ratso
  33. Kyodai Ken
  34. Gil Mason
  35. Nostromos (and Lucas!)
  36. Cameron Kaiser
  37. Dr. Dorian (and Garth)
  38. Talia al Ghul
  39. Mad Dog
  40. Ubu
  41. Professor Milo
  42. Romulus
  43. Sewer King
  44. Boss Biggis
  45. Montague Kane

Plugs

Eager for more long-form coverage of Batman? Why not check out my podcast with Mike Thomas, The Tape Crusaders, which reviewed every Batman movie and delved a tiny bit into the animated series.

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Matt Waters

Brit dude who likes both things AND stuff and has delusions of being some kind of writer or something. Basketball, video games, comic books, films, music, other random stuff.

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